I’m 21 years old and I don’t drink.
I don’t have a dramatic story of getting sober after years of struggle, or traumatic experiences with other people’s relationship to alcohol. But I don’t drink and I don’t intend to start.
Alcohol never played a big part in my family’s life. My parents don’t often drink at home, and if they do it’s only with guests. There was some beer in the cold part of the basement and wine saved from Christmas, but it wasn’t frequently taken out of the cabinets. Sometimes my dad orders a beer at a restaurant, sometimes he doesn’t (though he did go on the tasting tour at the Guinness factory when we went to Ireland). Alcohol never seemed high stakes at home and it was rarely discussed outside of reminders not to get in a car with a drunk driver. It was neither forbidden nor encouraged; we were welcome to a taste at holidays but my parents never sang it’s praises. My siblings and I most frequently saw alcohol during communion at Catholic Mass but the back-wash factor didn’t exactly make it enticing.
I was blessed and cursed with a high school experience that entailed very few social gatherings. My group of friends was too preoccupied with pep band, speech and debate tournaments, club meetings, and hours of homework. I knew people who were spending every weekend hanging out in friends’ basements, but that was never part of my weekend routine. Water and HGTV for me on Saturday night!
College was the first time I was around alcohol. I felt overwhelmed by people’s drunkenness during orientation – hordes of Manhattan prep school kids who had been drinking in clubs since they were fourteen. I found some groups of friends who had neither fake IDs nor upperclassmen friends and was set for a while.
It’s hard to explain why I found myself purposefully avoiding alcohol that first semester. Was I still judging those groups from high school who drank and partied, whatever that means? Probably. But I also started college in a weird place physically and mentally. I had spent the past two years battling physical manifestations of stress and anxiety. I already had a stomachache and headache every moment of the day, why would I add to that with alcohol? One manifestation of my anxiety was an acute fear of vomiting; this made not-drinking easy. Combine my anxious body with some particularly zealous RA’s and drinking in the dorms was not part of freshman year.
I gradually began hanging out with different people who had more connections within the school to upperclassmen. Thursday afternoons developed into a weekly trek across campus to pick up a 30-rack of Coors Light from an off-campus apartment, sneaking it back into somebody’s dorm in a big backpack. My friends started drinking a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like, every night a lot. I got written up for being in a room with 90 cans of beer stacked in a pyramid, the dean of students intervened with one person in particular, and things gradually got out of control with this group of people and their relationship to alcohol. Watching their Saturday nights proceed in the exact same way horrible every weekend reminded me why I carry a water bottle instead of a wine bottle when I go out.
When I transferred colleges, I was placed in a freshman dorm even though I was a sophomore. Wesleyan students as a whole were much wealthier than students at my first college, which meant people had more fake IDs and more money to spend at the liquor store. Wesleyan also had frats and very lax RAs, creating a very different going out culture. (Wesleyan’s frat culture has changed significantly over the course of my time there, and it was never anything like a big state school, but going from a school with zero Greek life to a school with any at all was a big difference). I found myself going to pre-games in gross freshman dorms, passing the bottle of Fireball down the line of 18 year old girls. Here’s the thing about frat parties: you have to be really drunk to enjoy them. My weekend routine became lying on my friend’s beds while they got ready to go out, begrudgingly attending uncomfortable pre-games, and then heading back to my room while my friends teetered to the row of frat houses.
Here again, my decision to drink was reinforced. A friend got too drunk and ran through our dorm naked as he was leaving a hookup. Another friend had thrown up in four different water fountains across campus. College students are not very good advertisements for alcohol consumption.
As at my first school, my group of friends evolved after my first semester. I found people who would go with me to see weekend shows that started before 10 pm and we watched movies in their dorm rooms. One girl was staunchly against alcohol and didn’t want to be around it at all, another developed an auto-immune disorder and was under doctor’s orders to avoid alcohol. Finding friends at college who didn’t drink or didn’t prioritize drinking was a long process.
The further in to college I got the easier it became to simply continue to not drink. Friends who were pouring shots for everyone in the room would know not to pour one for me. Once the freshman-year-feeling-of-freedom wore off, drinking became less exciting for everyone, anyway. I went to bed fairly early every weekend and never slept through Sunday brunch; watching people stagger into the dining hall mid-afternoon didn’t make me feel any regrets for how I had spent the previous night. Watching people grimace as they took shots was a frequent reminder that alcohol doesn’t even taste good (I will never understand wine and beer culture). Part of me feels like I missed out on some really fun nights, but I can reassure myself that I made a healthy choice.
I feel obligated to say at this point that I’m not “judging” people who do drink. I wish them well on their boutique brewery tasting tour and just hope they keep track of how many shots they’ve taken. We live in a culture that promotes alcohol consumption as a normal part of adult life. I want people to enjoy their hard apple cider and whiskey and champagne, but also know that it’s possible to have an enjoyable social life without it.
Looking forward, it makes sense for me to simply continue not drinking. Maybe this will change as I start to navigate the bar-based dating scene in my twenties, maybe it won’t (I would certainly save a lot of money). Maybe someone will give me a sip of wine that suddenly tastes amazing; that kid in my dorm with the homemade jalapeno wine did not. Maybe I’ll get hammered one night and discover that I’ve been missing out on something great for so many years. But right now, alcohol has no place in my life, and I’m not looking to create one.